Dad’s guested a couple of blog posts, based on his own oral history. The latest sees a journey into our family’s past, secrets of the British Intelligence service, and a lot of speculation and mystery prompted by the question he used as the title for today’s blog:
What did you do in the war Dad?
I was wondering what to talk about when the advent of V.E. day set off a train of thought, and today we are going o what might be called a magical mystery tour.
Today I am going to tell you a story. It’s about the mystery behind the question “what did you do in the war Dad?”
A question that most kids of my generation asked. Most of them got an answer but nearly seventy years on I am very little the wiser.
And behind the mystery of what Dad did an even greater and more important story emerged that involved the whole of the U.K.
Dad went away in 1944 and returned to my life somewhere around 1954, quite a long period in a little lad’s life.
So I asked the question and the only answer I got was “I can’t tell you, “It’s a secret.”
Over the years I asked the same question, and I always got the same answer “it’s a secret”
What on earth had he been up to that he couldn’t talk about 60 odd years after the event?
At this point, a brief history of the facts that I know about his early life.
He was born James Herman Lucas in 1905 in the area of Berlin known as Charlottenburg, the son of an English father and a German mother.
At the outbreak of World War 1 his father was interned in a prison camp called Ruhleben on the outskirts of Berlin for the duration of the war.
This prison camp was developed and later became the infamous Spandau Prison.
In fact Grandfather Lucas found fame in his own right as it is reported in The Times of Feb. 11th 1919 that at the Ruhleben Exhibition he presented a rat skin purse to the Queen.
By coincidence just yesterday I had confirmation from the Imperial War Museum that the rat skin purse in their possession is in fact the purse that Grandfather Lucas presented to Queen Mary.
Queen Mary then gifted the purse to The Imperial War Museum.
So although distant I do have Royal connections.
It is suspected that Father was sent to England for the duration of the war but no proof of this has been found.
So you can see that problems of establishing his history are already present, but it becomes even more interesting as we follow James Herman.
So about ten years ago I started to try and unravel this bit of history,
I remembered us coming from Cardiff, where the docks were constantly being bombed, to my Grandfather’s farm in Attleborough Nuneaton, where we were victims of the blitz on the night of arrival.
Father’s timing was always impeccable!
Now memory becomes slightly hazy, for some reason, we were in London amongst the air raids and the V1 and V2 rockets, burning buildings, air raid sirens, searchlights and barrage balloons. During this period Father disappeared. He didn’t come back into my life for a long time.
When he did I asked that same question, which was closely followed by the same answer.
After Mother died I was clearing out the house when I came across a bunch of letters that had been sent home to her from the various places he had been posted to, they only covered one year of adventures in Africa, Italy and Germany but they only deepened the mystery, although facts emerged that I was unaware of.
They did solve the puzzle as to why we ended up in London. He apparently worked for the BBC, possibly as a translator or in ‘black propaganda’.
Remember German was his first language.
Presumably he was recruited from the BBC because the letters tell us he was flown to Algiers and billeted in the best hotel with American intelligence officers.
The postmark on the letters show us he was assigned to G11 which is Anglo/American intelligence.
Apparently he lived the life of Reilly there, – an American mess, with very cheap and generous allowances of alcohol and tobacco, staff car etc.
It is recorded that he “mislaid” the staff car and had to “keep a low profile” for a while, But I doubt that this incident was serious enough to demand 60 + years of secrecy.
In fact he seems to have had the run of Algiers, visiting dance halls and night clubs and other things that I am sure Mother would not have approved of.
He also alleged that he met Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, but was unable to recall anything about him other than his feet smelt!
Later on his letter headings changed to Polindep Unit BNAF. This was discovered to mean 2Political Intelligence Department”, which was in turn just a cover name for the “Political Warfare Executive”. Most people don’t know anything about PWE, so I was interested to know what they did. PWE used to be the Propaganda wing of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After 1941, the SOE branched into two – one half became the now famous SAS, the other half became the largely unheard of PWE.
Of course these letters were censored and gave no indication of what he contributed to the war effort.
In these letters were a number of references to a place “that I cannot tell you about” and letters that were posted in England that had been posted by a friend that had been visiting this place.
The only place we could trace that fitted this description was the top secret Bletchley Park
This place was so secret that it was not that it was not discovered until the 1980s.
So secret that, although 1000 people worked a three shift 24 hour system, the secret never leaked out.
So secret that staff in adjoining huts were not allowed to discuss things with one another and had to “post” documents from one hut to another, no personal contact could be made.
So no apparent leads there.
Then son Paul came to the rescue. He used to teach students for The Open University and he emailed “I taught a guy that worked at Bletchley I’ll talk to him”
Great excitement when this fellow replied and said “Yes I can help, I know various fellow members of the staff that were there at the time.”
Sadly there was no record of Father’s existence at Bletchley Park, so at the end I was none the wiser.
So, back to the letters sent from Algiers. I transcribed 103 of these, written 70 years ago in ink on airmail paper, but of course, Father was educated in Germany so his handwriting was in the German style script and his phrasing was Germanic, Father never did make things easy!
In these letters he said that he had been awarded the assimilated rank of Major with a salary in excess of £400 per year and if anybody came enquiring for him he was “an officer of Government travelling for the Crown”
Anyway, with this information and the mention of an army pay book I thought ‘aha, MOD!’,
so wrote giving all the relevant details and enclosed my cheque and sat back ready for the information.
Weeks later, I had the letter saying they could not trace this person. Twice more over the next couple of years I tried, the last time the reply and my cheque arrived by return of post. Was something flagged up?
What on earth was my old man up to? I had the written evidence.
In his letters home in between tales of his high life with the Americans there were traces of homesickness but always the end was the same “I could not make the same money, and I may be liable for conscription.” What could that mean? Surely at 40 years of age he would either be too old or already in the services, we know he had a rank and a pay book.
Where was the next avenue of investigation?
His letters follow his transfer to Italy and to a City that I cannot name but I can see the dome of the Pope’s church from the window of my apartment.
How on earth did he get that past the Censor?
From this point on his letters become more and more vague and as they were typed there were thoughts that they were not written by him.
So there ends the letters to home, no real information except that together with the American he seems to have had a very comfortable and enjoyable war so far.
The next positive trace of him was in Germany as a member of the Control Commission.
‘Ah, the Home Office must have a record of him, at last we have the chance to solve the mystery.’
After a considerable time the Home Office answered my request made under the Freedom of Information Act, and to be fair they appear to have done a lot of research but the answer was identical – “we can trace no information on this person, even using all combinations of the names”.
So nothing, nix.
Unbelievable considering I have photos of him in uniform in the city of Hamburg.
I also have photos of the villa and officer’s mess where he was billeted in Hamburg, in fact the villa is still standing, and very posh it is too.
It is strange that I have documentary proof of all these things yet they are all denied by the authorities.
Who is telling porkies, and what the hell did you do in the war Dad?
During research into G11 intelligence I discovered that they were involved in something called the ‘Alsos Project’.
This was involved with getting German scientists out of Germany and transporting them to America to work under Oppenheimer on the atom bomb project.
So I thought “the Americans are more open than the English, so I’ll try them” – so I posted a notice on their site, and much to my surprise I had a reply.
A truck driver called Bunny was attempting to trace his father in Law’s war history, and his footprint was almost identical to Dad’s.
We corresponded for some time until I had an exciting email from him.
“I think I’ve found a way in.”
THAT WAS THE LAST TIME HE WAS HEARD OF!
The only reason for this that I can think of is that Homeland Security had monitored our emails, got suspicious and blocked any further communication.
What on earth had these people been up to? We are far beyond the limits of the Official Secrets Act so why cannot information be released?
It seems strange that with one year’s letters I can track him from London to Algiers, Algiers to Italy and Rome, and to Hamburg in German, yet the Home Office and the MOD are unable or unwilling to admit to having any information on his activities.
I know – and again, have his letters to prove – that he worked hand in hand with American Intelligence, but the one lead that developed from American enquires was suddenly eliminated without any explanation.
He always said that he was involved with the liberation of Dachau and Belson concentration camps and gave graphic details of these, but would never talk in depth about them, presumably the memories were too painful.
He also always alleged that he was in Berlin at the time Germany collapsed and was at the bunker where Hitler and his cohorts died.
Despite the rumours concerning Hitler’s death Father always asserted that Hitler died in that bunker.
Following up from that he said that he was in and out of the Russian zone, his brief being to track and capture Hitler’s deputy, Martin Bormann. He never did find him and concluded that he had made good his escape to South America. In the late 1980s, DNA evidence proved that Borman had died, probably in 1945, at the time Dad was hunting him in Berlin. You got that one wrong, Dad!
There possibly ends my question to “what did you do in the war Dad?”
Most of what you have heard is provable but some of it is just hearsay. Maybe someday I will press the correct key and the whole story will come out.Who knows? Too many secrets have been buried and those that can remember have either died or are too old to be credible.
What on earth DID you do in the war Dad?
I will end this tale of intrigue with a quote sent to me by my son Paul from Leo Marks, head of the Codes Office at the Special Operations Executive during WWII. He described the SOE as
…pitted and pockmarked with improbable people doing implausible things for imponderable purposes, and succeeding by coincidence.
Is it coincidence that I have letters giving certain information that authorities deny? Are they hiding information or does it really not exist? Another mystery that may never be solved!
So sixty years after he returned home the question still remains unanswered:-
“What did you do in the war Dad?”
So, James Herman Lucas, did you really exist? I may not know, and may never know, what you did in the war Dad but we’re all very grateful that whatever you did, it worked-and the allies won. James Herman Lucas or whatever, I’m proud of you.
If I knew all the answers it would be a very boring story.
I travelled into the Sahara Desert riding a camel a few years back, with the romantic notion of following in my Grandfather’s footsteps – and finding the wreck of the staff vehicle my father mentioned, covered with sand but somehow containing a jaunty note from my grandfather in the glove compartment. Although my fellow travellers rode their camels with dignity, I was crouched over mine like some sort of bloodsucking parasite, holding on for dear life, as a local villager threatened us ‘Westerners’ with a very sharp and very large knife. He was eventually placated, and we spent the night at a beautiful Bedouin Camp. The car remains lost to the desert.